Steve Reich Interpreted Through Dance

Ryoji Sasamoto and Ashley Browne with Aaron Carr (standing) in Larry Keigwin’s Sidewalk, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, photo © 2009 Richard Termine

When two choreographers create works set to the same music, is it useful to make comparisons?  The dance writer Nancy Dalva asked choreographers Peter Quanz and Larry Keigwin this question on Saturday afternoon at the Guggenheim’s Works & Process.  The series commissioned Quanz and Keigwin to each create a new work to Steve Reich’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet, and the results were presented over the weekend along with an insightful discussion about the process.  Not only did both men find the experience productive and challenging (Keigwin collaborated with dancers from his company while Quanz worked with dancers from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where he trained), but their pieces also provided refreshing, unique ways for the audience to visualize Reich’s propulsive, energetic score.

Double Sextet was created for two identical sextets of instruments – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone, and piano – that can be played by twelve musicians or by six musicians playing against a recording of themselves.  Given the binary quality of the score, it seems fitting for two choreographers to interpret it through movement.  Quanz relied on classical ballet vocabulary and closely followed the music for his piece, In Tandem, which featured four women in sleek blue-gray leotards with a grid-like pattern and two men in form-fitting black.  To the music’s vibrant, fast-paced opening, carving arm gestures flowed into full-bodied movement and partnering.  The Royal Winnipeg dancers beautifully balanced lyrical grace with edgier, angular movements that echoed some of the score’s darker moods.

Vanessa Lawson, Amanda Green, Jo-Ann Sundermeier, and Maureya Lebowitz in Peter Quanz’s In Tandem, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, photo © 2009 Richard Termine

Keigwin’s work, Sidewalk, reflected the urban pace of the city by playing with the score’s driving force.  The three men and women, dressed in business attire, illustrated the contrasts between the exterior self – sternly rushing through the city streets – and the calmer, more meditative interior self that is not usually shown on sidewalks.  They briskly crossed the stage with uniform pedestrian steps and pumping arms, occasionally breaking out of line with gestures from everyday life.  Many of the movements stemmed from improvisations they did upon initially hearing the music and rehearsing in the space.  As the music slowed and the light dimmed, suggesting evening or a time outside of working hours, the dancers shed their jackets and ties and sat down at the front of the stage.  A few heaved deep sighs and stretched out their arms before repeating the grind the next day, and a push-pull tension throughout the piece illustrated the struggle between public and private selves.

In addition to their distinct interpretations of the music, both choreographers made full use of the architecture of the Guggenheim’s unique performance space, which is not a traditional proscenium stage.  The women in Quanz’s work raced to the front of the stage and gracefully fell into the arms of a man standing on the carpeted floor, just inches from the first row of seats.  Another man’s hands creepily emerged from behind a wall to the right of the stage, where a duet for him and one of the women made its way down the stairs and toward the stage.  In Sidewalk, the dancers ran energetically up and down the aisles and around the back of the space.  Three men rested on the stairs during one of the slower sections before leaping back onto the stage for the piece’s thrilling, demanding final section.  As Sidewalk closed, each dancer raced up the stairs and through the brightly lit side stage door, into the unknown of the day ahead.

Ryoji Sasamoto, Ashley Browne, Aaron Carr, Kristina Hanna, Matthew Baker, and Liz Riga in Larry Keigwin’s Sidewalk, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, photo © 2009 Richard Termine

Yosuke Mino and Jo-Ann Sundermeier in Peter Quanz’s In Tandem, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, photo © 2009 Richard Termine

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5 Responses to Steve Reich Interpreted Through Dance

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